Opinion: Ban on selling new gas-fueled cars would have unintended (bad) consequences – The Mercury News

Last year Americans drove nearly 3.25 trillion miles. Those miles released dangerous emissions harmful to the environment and our public health.

Over time, however, our cars have become safer – thanks to new technologies – and cleaner – thanks to increased CAFE standards. Yet America’s love affair with the automobile continues to be a dilemma for U.S. policymakers.

In 2015, there were more than 260 million registered vehicles in the U.S.; more than 500,000 were electric vehicles (EVs).

Some argue it is quite possible that EVs are the future. The sticker price of electric cars is falling, and there is reason to believe that trend will continue. However, the unspoken obstacle of EV deployment is the need for additional electricity.

Assuming weekly recharges of a typical 20 kWh EV battery, the average consumer’s electricity need would increase 10 percent per month. Extrapolate that over 100 or 250 million vehicles, suddenly our nation would face a severe shortage of electricity and electricity transmission.

This could lead to blackouts and brownouts, or to the deployment of dirtier fuels – especially coal, or worse: infinitely costly and dangerous nuclear energy—when its price is properly calculated over its lifecycle.

For the first time in human history, cleaner renewable, wind and solar sources are making significant progress as key suppliers for electricity generation nationwide.

Relatively simple improvements to vehicles such as low-resistance tires, idle-off systems, better aerodynamics, and lighter materials will help vehicles double current miles per gallon.  These improvements cater to the demands of discerning drivers, while also making significant strides in reducing emissions.

Improvements in diesel technology have also led to improvements in driving efficiency and carbon emissions reductions as diesel vehicles typically travel up to 35 percent farther per gallon of fuel than their gasoline counterparts.

Unfortunately, the VW scandal has soured consumers and regulators in the U.S. on the benefits of diesel engines. In the U.S., the EPA and the California Air Resources Board have turned a skeptical eye towards diesel vehicles; and cities across Europe are threatening to end diesel’s sale or use outright. Some jurisdictions, like Paris, are going even further and calling for outright bans on automobiles.

This jostling has led major manufacturers including VW, Ford, BMW, Daimler, and Fiat-Chrysler to announce poorly planned offers for consumers to trade in older diesel vehicles for new ones or scurry deployment of software fixes to ensure their vehicles meet regulators’ expectations. Municipalities have offered citizens few viable alternatives. When Paris tested a car free day, it did not make public transport free for all.

Diesel bans like total automobile bans are a knee-jerk reaction to the outrageousness of the VW scandal. Corporate crime and malfeasance must be sternly punished. Poorly organized industry wide bans are shortsighted, can hinder existing cleaner fuel technologies—and worse: may adversely affect poor and marginalized consumers who often overwhelmingly rely on outmoded technology: gasoline-fueled cars.

EVs demonstrate real promise by lowering emissions and improving our environment.  However, this transformation needs to be done sensibly, over time, and explicitly prevent a re-expansion of coal or nuclear energy.

Importantly it must be tied to comprehensive, accessible public transportation for all. The poorest of the poor in rural and urban areas need viable transportation options as much as their wealthy EV driving neighbors. In the meantime, improving existing technologies can help improve fuel efficiency and significantly reduce net personal vehicle emissions, while a cleaner grid emerges to power a full fleet of EVs.

Dr. Michael K. Dorsey is a board member of the California based Center for Environmental Health and full member of the Club of Rome. He wrote this for the Bay Area News Group.

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